Saturday, February 2, 2013

Time Warp

When February 1st arrived, I was grappling with how quickly time seems to be passing by.  I know, it’s an age thing right, as we get older time seems to speed up.  To check this theory I asked my youngest son if he felt time was speeding up.  He said yes – he’s 20 so it’s not an age thing after all.  I know, not a very scientific Pre-digital Clock 1conclusion.  But seriously, I wonder if the rapid changes that we are experiencing in our lifetime are in effect like a time warp?

My wife reluctantly lets me keep this 45 year old clock – it was ten years old when given to me by someone when I was 15 and working as a sales guy in a ski shop.  It still works!  Notice it’s cool pre-digital look.  The numbers flip over as the minutes tick by.  I suspect the iPhone 5 I have now, which has a simple digital alarm clock feature, will not work 45 years from now.  It probably won’t work 10 years from now!  What might clocks look like, work like, in the future.  I haven’t worn a watch for probably 10 years – my phone is my time piece!  I used to use a (paper) day timer – my digital calendar keeps me scheduled and on time.  I used to have a radio for listening to music, a separate camera for pictures and video, I communicate with people around the world instantaneously, I buy and read books on my phone and share my notes and highlights with the world… these capabilities are all in my phone along with 100’s of other things I couldn’t imagine having 5 years ago.  I have “face 2 face” video conversations and stream music from any number of 50,000 “radio” stations, on my TV (and my phone).  More has changed in the past 5 years than the previous 20 or more is seems.  Time warp!

I was speaking with some teachers the other day about the power of our smartphones and I mistakenly exclaimed that 10 years ago we didn’t have these.  One of the teachers corrected me and said we didn’t have this power five years ago.  With the iPhone’s arrival in June of 2007 (6 years ago), thus began the rapid innovation cycle of hand held technology.  Now we’re talking about 3D printers in schools (we have a few already).  Did you know you can purchase one for under $1000 now?  Think about this – one day you might Google around for smartphone designs and simply print your next smartphone at home on your printer for under $5.  You think this is a stretch?  Remember when you used to take your rolls of film to get developed and 7-10 days later you picked up your pictures?  I think that cost about $20 plus the film.  To share your photos, you had to have duplicates made and then mail (not-email) them to family and friends – they would arrive in 4 or 5 days.  Next the 1-hour photo places popped up everywhere and now we mostly just post our pictures online (for free) and family and friends can enjoy them seconds after we take/post them.  We’ve been enjoying this experience with our eldest son being in Thailand for the past three months.  Facebook with digital photos helps make the world a smaller place!

I find that most people, of any age (students or adults), today are incapable of anticipating what the future might be like 3, 5, 10, or more years from now.  Most of us have difficulty extrapolating forward now that change is occurring in exponential time.  At best, we see the future through today’s and maybe next year’s lens.  We envision more technology, very similar to what we have now, being available but we have difficulty imagining whole new categories of technology and change.  Breakthrough technologies, ones we can’t imagine being possible, are happening more and more frequently.  It’s speeding up the pace of change.  I think we need to think about Sun rays through fog - Mike Lakehow to prepare for a world where the “science fiction” of the Star Trek era could become real in our lifetime.  While we figure out how to grapple with a world where every person (even in poor families and the third world, remember you will print your devices for dollars in the future) has their own high powered hand-held learning device we also need to think bigger than that and anticipate a future where the lines of reality and virtual reality become blurry.  When our hand-held devices can project 3D holographic images of people, things, ideas we interact with, when they allow us to “enter” into the digital realm and experience it as reality, this will be a very different experience.  I recall at a World Future Society conference a few years ago a speaker asking the question “if you can’t tell the difference between reality and virtual reality, does it matter”?  They used an example of being immersed in a digital experience racing a convertible car and feeling the wind in your hair, the speed, your heart racing, the leather steering wheel, etc. – it felt exactly like the real thing.  If (when) that is possible, how should we be preparing now for this type of world.  It would certainly have a combination of benefits and significant problems.  There are ethical questions to be asked and answered, economic implications, spiritual / religious aspects, and huge educational implications.  Who’s asking these questions and pondering the outcomes?

If you think this type of thinking is far fetched just remember that exponential change does seem to make time warp.  The unbelievable, the impossible, the unimaginable, becomes possible in shorter and shorter time spans.  One place conversations about these sorts of things should be taking place, is in our schools.  Our schools do a fairly good job of dealing with history and today’s body of knowledge but do they do enough to prepare young people for a time warped future?